Gentlemen win Aspen Rugby 7s Tournament |

Gentlemen win Aspen Rugby 7s Tournament

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Vail attempts to clear the ball with a kick during a pool-play game against the Gentlemen of Aspen on Saturday at Rio Grande Field in Aspen. The Gents won the Aspen Rugby 7s tournament match 19-5. The two teams met again in the tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon.
Dale Strode/The Aspen Times |

The Gentlemen of Aspen started the summer rugby season in style Saturday.

The Gents won the inaugural Aspen 7s Rugby Tournament at Rio Grande Field, topping four other Colorado rugby clubs.

“This gives us momentum and helps morale coming into our next game,” said James Aldridge, the captain of the Gentlemen of Aspen. Aldridge, a former Notre Dame running back, scored two tries in Aspen’s 40-19 victory over the Denver Harlequins in the championship game Saturday afternoon.

“This was a collective effort on everyone’s part,” Aldridge said. “I think everyone is buying into the movement we are trying to create on the field.”

Aldridge, who scored one try as Aspen built a 19-12 halftime lead in the championship game, scored again with the Harlequins threatening at 26-19 with four minutes to play.

His long run for a score put the championship game out of reach as the Gents wrapped up their sixth game of the day.

“In the beginning, we were struggling with our defense,” said Whelan Pretorius, who scored Aspen’s first try in the title game against the Harlequins. “But once we got it (defense) together, the last three games, it was working. Defense … that’s what won the games for us in the end.”

Pretorius, who added the conversion kick after his opening goal, is a former standout with the Junior Gents high school rugby team. He’s moved up to the senior club this summer, following in a family tradition that started with his uncle playing for the Gentlemen of Aspen 15 years ago.

Pretorius said it is fun to play with the speedy wingers of the Gentlemen of Aspen — like Aldridge and Will Whitehead.

Whitehead, who took a perfect pass for a try after a long run through the defense by Wes LaBorte, scored on the most dazzling play of the championship when he made a one-handed leaping catch and dashed untouched down the sideline to give the Gents a 24-12 lead in the opening minutes of the second half.

LaBorte also set up Aspen’s first score with a sprint right up the middle of the Harlequins defense in the opening minutes of the game.

“This feels great,” LaBorte said after Saturday’s tournament championship game. “The atmosphere here is great; the weather is awesome.”

LaBorte, a junior rugby player at LSU, is spending the summer in Aspen playing for the Gentlemen.

“Back in Louisiana right now, it’s 85 degrees and 100 percent humidity,” LaBorte said. “This is definitely the best 7s (weather) I’ve ever played in.”

Aspen coach Fred Waititi, for one, appreciated the day-long efforts of LaBorte and his teammates.

The Gentlemen started the tournament with a 36-5 win over the Denver Harlequins. Aspen then stopped Defiance of Glenwood Springs 33-0.

After absorbing a 19-5 pool-play loss to the Denver Barbarians, the Gentlemen bounced back with a 19-5 win over Vail.

That sent the Gents into the tournament semifinals for a rematch against Vail.

Aspen won 28-12 to advance to the final.

The Harlequins reached the championship game with a 22-14 win over the rival Barbarians in the other semifinal game.

“Wes has come up here from Louisiana … from LSU,” Waititi said of LaBorte. “He played really well. He’ll be deserving of a good sleep tonight.”

Waititi said the six games Saturday taxed the Gents.

“We were pretty rusty to start with,” he said. “It got better as the day went on.”

He said the Gents also played better as they got tired and were forced to calculate their efforts.

“They had to do things more correctly,” the Aspen head coach said with a smile.